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Borat: Touristic Guidings to Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan/Minor Nation of U.S. and A.
Borat: Touristic Guidings to Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan/Minor Nation of U.S. and A.
by Borat Sagdiyev
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 76 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Cyrillic-abuse, 5 Dec 2007
The last time I was so incensed about Cyrillic alphabet abuse was at the posters for a movie "THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING!..." in 1966. The title as printed using cyrillic letters is "BOYADT" and makes no sense if the character is supposed to be from a country formerly of the USSR where in that era they learnt Russian in school, unless he is also supposed to be totally illiterate in Russian/Cyrillic, as well as extremely reactionary and sexist etc. The constant "joke" is that he is extremely stupid about foreign culture, not that he is so slow intellectually he is illiterate in the language he'd have learnt to use for everything at school. The latter clashes with the image of a cunning character who has "got ahead" in the imaginary culture presented as his background.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 24, 2008 9:47 AM GMT


Cloud Atlas
Cloud Atlas
by David Mitchell
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 28 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Unreadable, 19 Aug 2007
This review is from: Cloud Atlas (Hardcover)
Like some others, I heard about this book because it was on the Madeley & Finnegan list, and I tried it because it was on display in the local library. I began at the beginning and found the style offputting and the prose flawed. I made concerted efforts to get into it by starting again at the start of other stories --- which famously are (supposedly) in other styles --- but found all of them unreadable, artificial, and lacking in anything that made me want to keep trying or read further. I abandoned it as a pretentious confection of badly told, broken narratives and I really don't understand why so many made such a fuss of it, or why it won any prizes.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 21, 2013 5:20 PM GMT


Principia Logica
Principia Logica
by Alec Misra
Edition: Paperback
Price: 11.50

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Presentation flawed; content brilliant? or just deluded?, 18 Jun 2007
This review is from: Principia Logica (Paperback)
This book makes some grandiose claims for itself on its back cover:

"The sheer scope of this monumental work makes its achievement difficult to summarize. In essence though utilizing arguments only from modern physics and its underlying logic Principia Logica demonstrates how the very existence and also the particular form of our universe can be accounted for out of absolutely nothing. Along the way it also reveals several key discoveries such as the curved nature of time, entropy conservation, the hyperspheric form of the universe and numerous other things. Also showcased is a comprehensive programme for the revival of Logicism and Logical Empiricism as an overarching context for our knowledge. Finally, (in an explosive appendix) the work also includes a formal proof of the indeterminacy of prime number distribution (and an associated informal proof of the P versus NP problem) and also a formal expression of the Riemann Hypothesis as a statement about entropy. All in all Principia Logica represents probably the single greatest intellectual achievement of our generation."

However, be aware that it appears so far to have passed the academic world by. The intellectual analogue of huge seismic events in the worlds of mathematics, fundamental physics, philosophy (ontology, epistomology) and the interface between these disciplines (empiricism and the rest) are noticeable only by their absence. Misra's claims regarding cutting-edge subjects ranging from the Riemann Hypothesis and the origin of the universe should have made headlines even in the world's medium-brow press, and made Misra a fortune into the bargain; but nobody's paying attention. Appalling oversight, or just forbearance in the face of the self-deluded? you decide.

Be aware also that this book is published by Lulu.com; that is, it is self-published by the author. This works simply (go there and look); you upload your (perhaps PDF) file and pay a fee. So the work has not been subjected to professional editing or publishing scrutiny; and, whatever Misra is, he is not at a professional level of competence as a writer or editor. The book is presented in the form of 80 chapters plus an Appendix. There is no title page, save the outer front cover. There is a table of contents (with no title) that lists the chapters, giving each a page number; but the pages have no page numbers on them. Luckily, almost every chapter is only one or two pages long, so that individual chapter headings are easy to find: at least one is visible wherever you open the book at random (almost: for example, Chapter 53 "Neo-Logicism" has an exception).

So much for the housekeeping details of book presentation. On another redactorial function, the punctuation is often very poor. To give just one instance, all too many sentences hurtle from start to finish without a comma in ways that (I would have thought) even the most sparing of comma-users would wish to amend by giving the reader somewhere to pause, whether for breath or to sketch the intended structure by marking off a leading subordinate clause.

Other editing flaws include typographial errors. On the single page that is Chapter 2 "The Quantum Origin", there are numerous errors in presenting units both typographical and in inconsistency of style. We see "c.m." on one line and "cm" on another (typographical); but since the quantities are large negative powers of 10 one would rather expect the unit to be metres (scientific paper style). In the same page we see 10 (ten) raised to the power "32k" -- what in HTML would be rendered as 10<sup>32k</sup> -- the k meaning degrees Kelvin. Having studied mathematics and physics at university myself, I am not sure that it is possible to raise an integer to a power which is a temperature. Still on the same page, we have 10(to the power 93) g/cm and then 10(to the power -5)kilos -- and many more numbers and dimensions showing scant regard for consistency of presentation of numerical information with related scientific units and dimensions, or for suitable and correct typography.

What of the content? Let us suppose that perhaps the mathematicians and physicists really have missed out, and unjustly neglected this book in the two years since it first appeared. While not claiming to be qualified like a combination of Professors Roger Penrose or Stephen Hawking with Karl Popper and Edmund Husserl, I think I can see times when -- were he presenting any of these chapters as a paper at a conference -- even this author would be waving his hands a little desperately as he speaks. The almost staggering breadth of topics addressed, and the breadth of reading behind this, is undeniable; but does the daring to tackle so many fundamental topics indicate (1) extra ordinary genius, and/or great intellectual courage, or (2) self-delusion and foolhardiness, or (3) just a taste for a very elaborate intellectual spoof, perhaps as part of some very unusual (and large) private bet?

I have not yet decided. IPH


As They Say In Zanzibar
As They Say In Zanzibar
by David Crystal
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, entertaining, but with drawbacks, 23 April 2007
This collection of proverbs from many lands looks quite impressive: the hefty book ends at page 717. The proverbs are grouped under 468 themes from 1 Existence, 2 Family, 3 Sameness, through themes of material objects such as 38 Clocks--Watches or 73 Bottles--Cans, body parts such as 243 Ears and 244 Eyes, and abstractions such as 40 Beforehand, 41 Afterwards, 45 Oldness, and 46 Age, to 467 Clergy and 468 Church.

For every proverb, naturally, the country of origin is stated. It is very entertaining to dip into, and sometimes illuminating about countries; for instance in theme 165 Materials we find these proverbs:- 6: Not every sort of wood is fit to make an arrow (FRANCE); 8: It isn't every kind of wood that can make a whistle (LATVIA).

However there are some grounds for possible disappointment, though there may be good reasons for the author, editors and publisher's decision on each case.

First, there are not as many different proverbs as you might expect given such a big book. A generous type size is used, and the entries are set out spaciously on the page, 12 to 14 on a page that has a theme heading on it, 16 or 17 otherwise. After 34 pages of front matter including a list of themes (pp. 17..32), the proverbs are on pages 35..594 (560 pages).Pages 595..717 are devoted to various indexes including to and from Roget and a normal keyword index listing all the proverbs with each word, all excellent. Of the 560 pages, 468 have a theme heading and the rest don't. Ignoring some panels with fewer, we thus have room for about 8020 proverbs. But many if not most proverbs appear more than once, greatly reducing the number of different proverbs on offer. For example, we have 193 Cats 11: "A cat may look at a king" (ENGLAND) which appears also as 277 Looking--Seeing 14 and 390 Power 16. Similarly 195 Dogs 4: "A dog may look at a bishop" (FRANCE) also appears as 277 Looking--Seeing 13 and 467 Clergy 1.

Second, there is no guaranteed way to compare and contrast the ways different countries have to encapsulate the same thought. The previous example also illustrates this perfectly: the most interesting thing to notice about the two proverbs "A cat may look at a king" and "A dog may look at a bishop" is that they are England's and Frence's respective ways of making the same (vaguely moral-philosophical) point, which we can call the "moral" of the proverb. However, the grouping is into ostensible "themes", which are actually based on the (also indexed) key words in the proverbs, means that although the English proverb appears under both the themes Cats and Power, and the French proverb appears under both the themes Dogs and Clergy, and each is referenced in the keyword index under both its chief words, the only way to come across them both while looking at one, and thereby to tie the two via the common "moral", is to discover the third appearance of each under theme Looking. You will only make the comparison between the choices of animal and important personage in the two countries if you browse extensively and happen to find them both by chance. The odds of coming across both are perhaps slightly helped by the fact that under Cats and Dogs themes, animals with adjacent initial letters, they are only 3 pages apart; and under theme 277 Looking--Seeing they are adjacent proverbs. BUT had the French chosen a monkey instead of a dog for their proverb, the animal separation would have been rather greater. Similarly, had the French version of the proverb been (say) "A dog can lick a bishop's boot" (dogs do tend, unlike cats, to lick things belonging to other people) the third appearance (aside from Dogs and Clergy) would have been elsewhere --- Licking not being a theme in the book, perhaps next to 253 Touch 6: "A dry bone is never licked" (ALBANIA). Then, the two proverbs with identical moral would never have been found at all.

There are probably many sets of proverbs with same same moral, expressed so differently in different countries that I not only do not know of them but also cannot find them by reading this book --- unless I were to read the entire book, recognize and memorize all the morals, and then cross-relate the similar morals in proverbs with no common key-words at all. As it was, I could come across "A cat may look at a king" (ENGLAND) and "A dog may look at a bishop" (FRANCE) only by one of *two* coincidences (in fact I found them by reading a lot all at once at the animal theme pages). This is a problem which it would have been quite difficult to solve, so it is perhaps not surprising that neither David Crystal nor his publishers' editors attempted it (as far as I can see, anyway; the Roget index doesn't help either). However, were somebody to find a way to cross-relate by moral and to implement it in a future much enlarged edition of this book, it would double its actual usefulness, though not perhaps its simple entertainment value.

IPH


The Practice of Writing: Essays, Lectures, Reviews and a Diary
The Practice of Writing: Essays, Lectures, Reviews and a Diary
by David Lodge
Edition: Paperback
Price: 11.91

10 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Whither The English Novel, *not* The Practice Of Writing!, 28 Aug 2003
Here again, in the title of this book, and in that of one of its chapters, "Creative Writing: Can It/Should It Be Taught?", we find the self-obsessed, navel-gazing attitude to writing of those who assume that the only creative writing -- indeed, the only writing at all however, creative or not -- is of fiction: of novels, and plays, and screenplays; and perhaps of literary criticism itself. (In fact, just like Fairfax et al., "The Way to Write".)
Surely the vast majority of writing that is done in the world, and in the English language in particular, is non-fiction. There is, to begin with, journalism both general (in our bulky daily and Sunday newspapers) and specialist (in the host of weekly and monthly magazines on every hobby and specialist subject imaginable). Then there are all the multitude of non-fiction books that are published every year -- though perhaps one should leave aside anything as mechanical as tables of reference and directories which, although representing a lot of hard work are only in very small measure creative; but even a new dictionary certainly involves a heck of a lot of writing, and if its compilers are not to copy the definitions from rival publications, they must surely be fairly creative in capturing each of the meanings of each word as accurately and precisely as possible and in a new way! Then there are the myriad instruction manuals for products of all kinds produced by companies for their customers; the glossy annual reports produced by big public companies for their shareholders: somebody has to write them, and to be pretty creative in trying to make them interesting, too, I reckon. There are the insurance policy booklets, and explanatory booklets about how to use today's novelty bank accounts; the holiday brochures that describe in lyrical terms each destination and luxury hotel. There are even the leaflets, booklets, and other explanatory documents written -- nowadays with an enormous effort to use plain English and remain really easy to understand -- by civil servants on all official matters from how to fill in your tax return or claim a certain welfare benefit, to the obligations placed on industry under health and safety regulations or on farmers under legislation about nature conservancy. Possibly the greatest body of writing of all is that comprising all the (no doubt millions of) internal reports written by anybody in a white collar job.
Many of the people writing all that vast body of material have to spend most of their working week writing. For the internal reports, writing might be only an occasional chore that they undertake with a groan; but for both groups, if they are conscientious, those people might well seek guidance on how to do the work of writing those documents better, and they might hope to find it in this book.
They won't.
These facts of life the likes of David Lodge seem to utterly ignore, even though one of his novels ("Nice Work", which was dramatized for television) is all about the encounter (and unlikely romance) of a young woman academic in a university English department with an industrialist, for which one might have expected Lodge to make the effort to raise his nose above his literary parapet and notice this huge amount of other WRITING that is NOT of novels, poetry or plays, being done out in the real world.
No.
"The Practice of Writing" begins with "The Novelist Today: Still at the Crossroads?" and is about novelists like Graham Greene, D.H.Lawrence, Henry Green (who he?!), and of course Joyce and Nabokov. Hardly anybody can understand the strange games with language the strange expatriate Irishman played in Ulysses and especially Finnegans Wake; but Lodge can't avoid a
chapter on him ("Joyce's Choices" is not about Miss Grenfell) which will be of about as much interest to those hoping for illumination of the practice of writing for work in the real world as a history of the cult of thousand-year-old eggs in the orient would be to a trainee cook in Torquay.
Interesting if you are studying "The English Novel" in some rarified college preoccupied with exclusively precious literary fiction, but not actually about the practice of writing.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 29, 2013 10:33 PM GMT


The Practice of Writing
The Practice of Writing
by David Lodge
Edition: Hardcover

12 of 76 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Whither The English Novel, *not* The Practice Of Writing!, 28 Aug 2003
Here again, in the title of this book, and in that of one of its chapters, "Creative Writing: Can It/Should It Be Taught?", we find the self-obsessed, navel-gazing attitude to writing of those who assume that the only creative writing -- indeed, the only writing at all however, creative or not -- is of fiction: of novels, and plays, and screenplays; and perhaps of literary criticism itself. (In fact, just like Fairfax et al., "The Way to Write".)
Surely the vast majority of writing that is done in the world, and in the English language in particular, is non-fiction. There is, to begin with, journalism both general (in our bulky daily and Sunday newspapers) and specialist (in the host of weekly and monthly magazines on every hobby and specialist subject imaginable). Then there are all the multitude of non-fiction books that are published every year -- though perhaps one should leave aside anything as mechanical as tables of reference and directories which, although representing a lot of hard work are only in very small measure creative; but even a new dictionary certainly involves a heck of a lot of writing, and if its compilers are not to copy the definitions from rival publications, they must surely be fairly creative in capturing each of the meanings of each word as accurately and precisely as possible and in a new way! Then there are the myriad instruction manuals for products of all kinds produced by companies for their customers; the glossy annual reports produced by big public companies for their shareholders: somebody has to write them, and to be pretty creative in trying to make them interesting, too, I reckon. There are the insurance policy booklets, and explanatory booklets about how to use today's novelty bank accounts; the holiday brochures that describe in lyrical terms each destination and luxury hotel. There are even the leaflets, booklets, and other explanatory documents written -- nowadays with an enormous effort to use plain English and remain really easy to understand -- by civil servants on all official matters from how to fill in your tax return or claim a certain welfare benefit, to the obligations placed on industry under health and safety regulations or on farmers under legislation about nature conservancy. Possibly the greatest body of writing of all is that comprising all the (no doubt millions of) internal reports written by anybody in a white collar job.
Many of the people writing all that vast body of material have to spend most of their working week writing. For the internal reports, writing might be only an occasional chore that they undertake with a groan; but for both groups, if they are conscientious, those people might well seek guidance on how to do the work of writing those documents better, and they might hope to find it in this book.
They won't.
These facts of life the likes of David Lodge seem to utterly ignore, even though one of his novels ("Nice Work", which was dramatized for television) is all about the encounter (and unlikely romance) of a young woman academic in a university English department with an industrialist, for which one might have expected Lodge to make the effort to raise his nose above his literary parapet and notice this huge amount of other WRITING that is NOT of novels, poetry or plays, being done out in the real world.
No.
"The Practice of Writing" begins with "The Novelist Today: Still at the Crossroads?" and is about novelists like Graham Greene, D.H.Lawrence, Henry Green (who he?!), and of course Joyce and Nabokov. Hardly anybody can understand the strange games with language the strange expatriate Irishman played in Ulysses and especially Finnegans Wake; but Lodge can't avoid a
chapter on him ("Joyce's Choices" is not about Miss Grenfell) which will be of about as much interest to those hoping for illumination of the practice of writing for work in the real world as a history of the cult of thousand-year-old eggs in the orient would be to a trainee cook in Torquay.
Interesting if you are studying "The English Novel" in some rarified college preoccupied with exclusively precious literary fiction, but not actually about the practice of writing.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 27, 2012 4:37 PM BST


Way to Write
Way to Write
by John Fairfax
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Poor advice, badly written, 19 Aug 2003
This review is from: Way to Write (Hardcover)
The subtitle of this book ("A complete guide to the basic skills ...") is a gross overstatement. The text is mostly about being more expressive when writing poetry and similarly literary prose. Indeed, the authors say as much and there are several other "The Way to Write ..." titles covering other writing categories. Still, this book is quite good on such points as the weakening effect of adjectives on nouns, and of adverbs on verbs ("The mouse scampered hurriedly..."). But it is silent, or sketchy, or out-dated on most other topics of interest to writers; the authors admit in the 1992 reprint that its 1981 origin make it useless on writing tools such as word processing and computers.
On grammar -- an extremely important basic skill for most writing, even if not for some poetry -- the book is very weak. The authors devote several chapters to parts of speech (nouns, verbs and adjectives etc.) but refer to "the grammarian" as an archetypal pedant obsessed with dry classification; and when they attempt to expound briefly on grammar they are not only too sketchy to be any help, but also in places just plain wrong. For instance, in discussing verbs they lump together "the active, the passive, and the subjunctive" quite incorrectly as "moods"; the active and passive are grammatical voices: the subjunctive is a mood, its normal usage counterpart being the indicative, and this error will only confuse readers not confident on the point.
There are many other flaws in the text. In particular, much of the punctuation is extremely poor. Consider this sentence: "The writer then measures not by the rule book but by his ear." The absence of commas leads the reader to construe the sentence initially as though it were part of a sequence, as in "The writer first does this ... The writer then measures ... Finally, the writer [does something else]." In fact, the authors meant "The writer, then, measures ..." -- a summary in which "then" means "therefore, in conclusion". Those missing commas would have saved the reader going back to read the sentence twice -- a courtesy which is should be one of the goals of all good punctuation. Here's one more example of their poor punctuation: one chapter begins "The image, is a device --in fact of all those available to the writer it is the most powerful." There is never any reason to put a comma after the subject at the beginning of a sentence like this; far better would have been: "The image is a device; in fact, of all those available to the writer, it is the most powerful."
The fact that the book contains no guidance on punctuation, one of the basic skills essential to any competent writing; one might imagine they knew they didn't understand the skill and didn't dare try to offer any, but probably they are simply unaware that good punctuation is an issue to be addressed.
There are also some very awkward sentences. Perhaps the authors intended readers to find fault with their text as a sort of huge counterexample, to show how not to write.
Even some of the supposed models of good writing, quotations of writing by such luminaries as Gerard Manley Hopkins ("one of the finest"), have some poor construction. One contains this:
"The wave breaks in this order -- the crest of the barrel 'doubling' (that, a boatman said, is the word in use) is broken into a bush of foam, which, if you search it, is a lace and tangle of jumping sprays; then breaking down these grow to a sort of shaggy quilt tumbling up the beach; thirdly this unfolds into a sheet of clear foam and running forward it leaves and laps the wave reaches its greatest height upon the shore and at the same time its greatest clearness and simplicity; after that, ..." What on earth is happening to the syntax in the clause beginning "thirdly..."?! The segments "...
it leaves and laps" and "the wave reaches its greatest height ..." seem to be separate sentences, the first with the objects of its verbs missing. The whole thing looks so bad that I almost suspect it is a misprint; but that, in a quotation from a supposed master, would be equally unforgiveable on the part of the editors.
At 8 pages, the Foreword (1981) by Ted Hughes is more lengthy than many pieces called "foreword". It too has some long and badly constructed sentences, a poor example to set to anyone trying to become a good writer, even if the man was Poet Laureate. This book has just 87 pages in the main chapters, plus the 8 page foreword, and other front matter. In my opinion, for so few pages of advice of such indifferent quality, it is overpriced at anything above 50p!


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